Provisioning policies for non-performing loans: How to best ensure a “clean balance sheet”?

06-11-2017

This note provides an updated picture on NPLs in the European Union, showing that – although the NPL ratio has been steadily decreasing, significant differences remain across Member States. It then discusses the two main factors driving NPLs in the long term: the macroeconomic cycle and the banks’ lending practices, arguing that policy makers should continue to encourage the development of sound internal credit ratings. Finally, four main levers are discussed, that can be used to curb high NPL stocks. Internal recovery processes, which should be improved by investing in better IT architectures and specialised professional skills. NPL sales, which may prove attractive (and reduce the supervisors’ own reputational risks), but also to destroy value for bank shareholders, debtholders and the public purse. Asset management companies (AMCs), which may prevent banks from disorderly liquidating NPLs, force badly-managed banks to feel the pain of past mistakes and gradually recover loans while being funded at an acceptable cost. Calendar provisioning regimes like the one recently proposed by the SSM, which may force banks to quickly write down non performing exposures, but may suffer from several drawbacks and should be enacted through a fully-fledged, accountable political process. In designing ways to tackle non-performing exposures, one should never forget that NPLs, while being associated with modest profits and poor loan supply, do not cause them but, like them, follow from poor real growth, ineffective management and faulty governance schemes.

This note provides an updated picture on NPLs in the European Union, showing that – although the NPL ratio has been steadily decreasing, significant differences remain across Member States. It then discusses the two main factors driving NPLs in the long term: the macroeconomic cycle and the banks’ lending practices, arguing that policy makers should continue to encourage the development of sound internal credit ratings. Finally, four main levers are discussed, that can be used to curb high NPL stocks. Internal recovery processes, which should be improved by investing in better IT architectures and specialised professional skills. NPL sales, which may prove attractive (and reduce the supervisors’ own reputational risks), but also to destroy value for bank shareholders, debtholders and the public purse. Asset management companies (AMCs), which may prevent banks from disorderly liquidating NPLs, force badly-managed banks to feel the pain of past mistakes and gradually recover loans while being funded at an acceptable cost. Calendar provisioning regimes like the one recently proposed by the SSM, which may force banks to quickly write down non performing exposures, but may suffer from several drawbacks and should be enacted through a fully-fledged, accountable political process. In designing ways to tackle non-performing exposures, one should never forget that NPLs, while being associated with modest profits and poor loan supply, do not cause them but, like them, follow from poor real growth, ineffective management and faulty governance schemes.